Middleton’s year in sports

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton’s boys track and field team won the WIAA Division 1 state title in November.

Thrilling victories. Magnificent individual performances. Memories to last a lifetime.

These are the norm inside the remarkably successful sports programs at Middleton High School.

And 2019 was certainly no different.

MHS provided area sports fans with a bevy of highlights this past year. Here’s one person’s view of the top-10.

Stories 6-10 ran last week, while the top five stories are listed here.

 

1. Boys cross country team captures gold

Brian Finnel’s message was simple. Executing it was far more challenging.

Finnel, Middleton’s boys cross country coach, told his team before the WIAA Division 1 state meet on Nov. 2 that everyone had to try performing like they were the Cardinals’ No. 1 runner. Finnel stressed that if they all ran to that level, Middleton could surprise and win a state championship.

Amazingly, that’s exactly what happened.

Middleton placed five runners in the top-25 and upset favored Stevens Point to win its second state title in three years and the third in school history. 

The Cardinals finished with 104 points, while Stevens Point was second at 116. Hortonville (179), Madison West (182) and Oconomowoc (183) rounded out the top five at the 20-team race held at The Ridges Golf Course.

“I’m feeling really proud of the guys,” Finnel said afterward. “What a resilient, tenacious group. In my eight years of coaching, this group was definitely the most resilient, that wanted it most. It speaks to the character of the guys.”

Sophomore Griffin Ward, the only non-senior in Middleton’s top-five, was thrilled how the Cardinals executed Finnel’s plan.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys who have all been No. 1,” Ward said. “We just had to go out there and run like No. 1s together.”

And that’s exactly what the Cardinals did.

Middleton was shorthanded due to late-season injuries. But the Cardinals still had a remarkable group of seniors to lean on.

Seniors Braedon Gilles, Egan Johnson and Zach Leffel all ran at state on the 2017 team that brought home a title. That trio, along with fellow senior Peter Hoferle, helped Middleton finish second at state in 2018 — a finish that left the group somewhat unfulfilled.

“Last year, we didn’t have a good ending,” Gilles said. “We wanted a good ending for our senior season. I knew we could do it. I knew I could do it. I was tired of losing — I just ran all-out there.”

He sure did.

Middleton was without No. 1 runner Roman Ystenes, who suffered a knee injury late in the year and didn’t compete. So without Ystenes, Finnel implored everyone on his team to act like they were No. 1.

The Cardinals listened.

Gilles finished the 5,000-meter course in 16 minutes, 19.1 seconds and set a personal-best time by nearly 24 seconds. Gilles also became the sixth Middleton runner to be the Cardinals’ top finisher this season.

“The best race I’ve had all season,” Gilles said of his performance. “We knew at conference we’d have to do it without (Ystenes) and we knew we could — it was just a matter of doing it.”

Johnson, a steady presence who was 21st at state in 2018, finished 21st again in 16:29.8.

“It feels good to come back after that narrow defeat last year and pull off a victory,” Johnson said. “We knew we could do better than that, and we did.”

Ward, who played soccer as a freshman, made the switch to cross country this fall and was a huge addition to the lineup. Ward finished 23rd overall at state in 16:33.6.

“I’m glad I made the move from soccer to cross country,” Ward said. “They’re totally different. Cross country feels more like a team sport than soccer does. 

“As a sophomore with seniors, it’s been great. You’re running alongside your teammates, and you’re pushing and pulling each other. You’re all in it together. You’re all suffering together. You’re all finishing together.”

Hoferle was 23rd overall in 16:34.5 and Leffel was 25th in 16:38.7. Middleton’s top five runners were separated by just 19.6 seconds.

Sophomore Ethan Mladucky battled through a calf injury and finished 89th overall (17:29.9), while junior Ryan Schoolmeyer was 97th (17:34.8). 

“We know what it’s like to come in second-best and to lose, and we didn’t want that again,” Johnson said. “We’ve got more people we can be resilient with, and also the mentality of resiliency.”

The Cardinals were certainly that — and then some.

Middleton’s season was at a crossroads after a disappointing performance at the Roy Griak Invite in late September. The Cardinals finished seventh that day at a star-studded event, and afterwards, Finnel and his team talked for 20 minutes about what they needed to do to get headed in the right direction.

“That was the turning point for us,” Finnel said. “From there on, it was, we just have to trust in what we’re doing and execute.”

Middleton did just that at state, and completed a remarkable run for the senior class.

That group was part of state titles in 2017 and 2019, and a runner-up finish in 2018. That’s easily the greatest three-year run in school history.

“I’m most proud of this (title), absolutely,” Finnel said. “They should be absolutely elated to win this, because on paper we weren’t supposed to win. These guys came in without a lot of pressure and just went out there. Of our three podium finishes, this is the one I’m most proud of, for sure.”

 

2. Girls golfers win state title

The goal was carved out 365 days earlier.

Middleton’s girls golf team had just finished second at the 2018 WIAA Division 1 state tournament. And as the Cardinals’ had dinner that night at Mid Town Pub in Middleton, they immediately outlined their objective for 2019.

“It was really at that moment that we said the goal was to win a state title this year,” said Cardinals senior captain Kate Meier. “We looked at the scores and that we were bringing back four girls and we knew winning state was realistic.”

It sure was.

Twelve months later, on a cold and windy October afternoon at University Ridge Golf Course, Middleton’s dreams became reality. The Cardinals compiled the best score during each round of the two-day tournament and captured the third state title in school history. 

Middleton fired a 651, good for a 13-shot victory over runner-up Brookfield Central. Kettle Moraine, the 2018 champion, finished third at 665, while Hartland Arrowhead was fourth at 685.

“It means so much to us, because last year we were real underdogs and we pulled off second place,” Cardinals sophomore Ellie Frisch said. “So this year we came in wanting to win state the whole season. And we all just wanted to come out here and have a good time, and winning certainly helps that.”

Middleton head coach Becky Halverson, who also guided the Cardinals to the 2015 state title, agreed with Frisch.

“We left here last year after finishing second saying, ‘we want first next year.’ And they were completely determined,” Halverson said. “All season long, they just worked harder and harder every day. I didn’t have to say anything and they wanted it just as much as I did.”

Middleton, a slight underdog to Brookfield Central, was the most consistent team throughout the tournament.

Meier, the Cardinals’ unquestioned leader, finished seventh individually with a 154. Junior Glenna Sanderson, who has battled bursitis in her feet for nearly two years, finished ninth overall with a 156 that included a sensational, second-day 77.

Frisch shot a final round 79 and finished in a tie for 18th place at 166. Middleton also counted a first-day 88 from senior Makenzie Hodson and a second round 87 from sophomore Milanne Dahmen.

Middleton led the field with 17 birdies, well ahead of runners-up Brookfield Central and Bay Port (11). The Cardinals also averaged a tournament-low 5.48 on the par-5 holes and 4.88 on par-4s.

“I’m so proud of the team,” said Meier, a Loyola (Ill.) recruit. “This has just been the ultimate goal, and for us, this is just a testament to all of our hard work and dedication, coming together and accomplishing what we worked so hard for.”

The Cardinals shot an opening-round 330 and led surprising Hartland Arrowhead by one stroke. Kettle Moraine (333) and Brookfield Central (337) were dangerously close, too, and the four teams were all paired together for Tuesday’s final round.

Meier gave Middleton a one-shot lead after the opening round when she drained a 6-foot birdie putt on her final hole. She also finished the first round with a terrific 76 that left her tied for fourth place individually.

The Cardinals also counted a 79 from Sanderson, an 87 from Frisch and an 88 from Hodson.

“It certainly wasn’t one of our better scores, but I wasn’t too worried about anything,” Sanderson said. “We just wanted to regroup. It wasn’t our best day and we all knew we could come out and do better, which we did.”

They sure did.

Sanderson played the front nine at even-par, 36 and went on to shoot a magnificent 77. Sanderson made a 5-foot birdie putt at No. 9, birdied the par-3 12th and finished her round with just one double bogey.

“It’s an awesome feeling, no doubt about it,” Sanderson said. “It feels great.”

Meier was about as steady as it gets over the two days. After her team-best 76 on Monday, Meier carded a pair of 39s on her way to a second round 78.

“She’s our leader. She’s my rock, 100%,” Halverson said of Meier. “She’s just amazing. I can’t even put it into words. We’re going to miss her so much. She took care of everyone on the team. She’s really an inspiration to everyone.”

Frisch had a terrific second round in which she made three birdies, six bogeys and a pair of doubles. Frisch hit a beautiful gap wedge to 6-feet at No. 8 and sank the birdie putt, then she reached par-5s at No. 11 and 16 in two shots and two putted both holes for birdies.

Dahmen, who had a 10 at No. 1 and a 12 at No. 11 Monday, rebounded in a big way on Tuesday. For the most part, Dahmen stayed out of trouble, notched a pair of birdies and fired an 87 from the No. 5 spot that the Cardinals kept.

It didn’t take long for Middleton to conquer the field on the final day.

The Cardinals played the first three holes in 5-over par, while Kettle Moraine and Arrowhead were both 10-over and Brookfield Central was plus-11. 

Middleton finished the front nine with a 159, while Brookfield Central shot 164, Kettle Moraine had a 169 and Arrowhead posted a 171. That gave the Cardinals a 12-shot lead over second-place Central at the turn, and Middleton’s lead stayed in that range throughout the second nine.

“I never saw us as underdogs,” Meier said. “I knew we were all capable of going low.”

The Cardinals did just that. And now, their year-long dreams of a state title are a reality.

 

3. Girls basketball team second at state

In the moments immediately following the toughest loss of their collective lives, it took someone with great perspective, attitude and maturity to somehow look at the glass — and see it as half full.

Meet Charlotte Dunn.

Dunn, a senior point guard for Middleton’s girls basketball team, and the rest of the Cardinals just had a state championship ripped from their grasp at the Resch Center on March 9. Bay Port’s Emma Nagel broke free on inbounds play and scored with just 2.4 ticks left — a basket that eventually gave the Pirates a 50-49 win in one of the most dramatic and memorable WIAA Division 1 state title games in history.

Afterwards, Dunn battled through the heartbreak and found a way to fixate on the positives.

“Coming home with ‘A’ ball is better than no ball and I’m happy for that,” Dunn said, referring to the sliver ball Middleton received for its second place finish. “I think everyone left everything out there. It was a great team effort. It was everyone putting everything in and it just came down to who was willing to die out on the court.”

There’s no question the Cardinals left their blood, sweat and tears behind. Unfortunately for Middleton, they also left Nagel at the wrong time — and her last second basket prevented the Cardinals from winning the first state title in school history.

Middleton, which had its 14-game winning streak snapped, finished the year 22-6. The Cardinals, who were making their 11th trip to state under coach Jeff Kind, brought home the runner-up trophy for a fourth time.

Bay Port, which won its first-ever state title, finished the year 27-1.

“It was right there,” said Middleton junior forward Sitori Tanin, who had 13 points and a team-high 10 rebounds. “But it got away.”

Junior guard Josie Lemirande, who led Middleton with 14 points, agreed.

“It hurts a lot,” Lemirande said. “It looked good for a minute, there.”

It sure did.

Middleton used a breathtaking 18-3 run late in the second half to turn a 39-27 deficit into a 45-42 lead with 3:14 left. After Bay Port answered with 6-1 burst to reclaim a 48-46 lead, Lemirande appeared destined to be the hero.

Lemirande broke Bay Port’s pressure and passed the ball to Evie Coleman on the left wing. Lemirande then ran to the left corner, where the Pirates lost her for a moment.

Coleman quickly returned a pass to Lemirande, and with two Bay Port players staring at each other, Lemirande found herself wide open and calmly drained the biggest three-pointer of her life — one that gave the Cardinals a 49-48 lead with 36.9 seconds left.

“I knew we were down by two and I had to get our points on the board,” said Lemirande, who was 4-for-5 on three-pointers during the game. “I threw it up there and it went in.”

Bay Port raced forward, but couldn’t get anything going in its halfcourt offense. And after Tanin swatted Nagel’s pass out of bounds with 21.3 seconds left, the Pirates called timeout.

Bay Port was still stagnant in the halfcourt when reserve Raegan McIntyre drove to the basket, but was rejected by Tanin with 6.2 seconds left. McIntyre went to the floor with the ball and was tied up by Lemirande.

Unfortunately for Middleton, the possession arrow favored Bay Port.

“It seems like every tie-up went to them and every out of bounds play at that end of the court was going to them,” Kind said. “I’m not down there on that end, but there were a couple of them where it was like, ‘How did that happen?’ ”

Kind was undoubtedly saying, ‘How did that happen’ after what came next.

McKenzie Johnson inbounded the ball to Nagel on the left baseline and Nagel faked a return pass. Johnson raced to the left corner and Dunn followed, Tanin got screened and Coleman — who was standing on the low block — didn’t take away the baseline.

That gave Nagel — a Drake University soccer recruit — a clear path to the basket, and she took full advantage.

“I just took it to the rim and hoped for the best,” said Nagel, who had 11 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.

While the loss was painful, Middleton put together one of the finest years in school history.

The Cardinals’ late-season 14-game winning streak helped them win the Big Eight Conference, Middleton also notched a thrilling 41-39 win over Madison Memorial in the sectional finals, then upset No. 1 Mukwonago, 62-53, in the state semifinals.

“The girls really believed in what we were doing and just played a heck of a game defensively and handled the pressure very well offensively,” Kind said after his team defeated Mukwonago. “They went out and earned everything they got.”

That’s why after the crushing defeat to Bay Port, Dunn and the Cardinals chose to remember the good. 

“I don’t know if I’d call it frustrating,” Dunn said. “More or less just heartbreaking. We really gave it our all, but it really was a great game and a great year.”

 

4. Boys golfers second at state

Tommy Kriewaldt stood on the putting green at University Ridge with two young children by his side. Kriewaldt held the state runner-up trophy high, smiled from ear-to-ear and posed for pictures.

Carson Frisch took the trophy, was immediately surrounded by four female classmates, and produced one of the largest smiles of his young life.

Each member of Middleton’s sensational boys golf team followed suit, hoisting the trophy for a photo they’ll never forget. 

The American rock back Styx once produced the hit song, ‘The Best of Times.’ On June 4, it was the best of time for Middleton’s boys golf team.

One year after a disappointing sixth place finish at the WIAA Division 1 state tournament, Middleton notched a second-place finish. That meant the Cardinals received a large runner-up trophy and a fire truck escort through Middleton.

Mighty Milwaukee Marquette won its third state title in four years after setting a new state record with a two-day total of 594. Middleton was second at 614, while Lake Geneva Badger (623), Kaukauna (624) and Wauwatosa East/West (627) rounded out the top five.

“Marquette’s a pretty tough team to beat, so to get second and beat everybody else is almost as good as we could have hoped for,” said Cardinals’ junior Kip Sullivan, who was Middleton’s low-man with a two-day score of 151. “It was really awesome. I’m so proud of our guys. We showed up this week and did what we needed to do.”

Middleton coach Tom Cabalka agreed.

“Every time something like this happens and a crew like this comes along, it’s pretty special,” Cabalka said. “I speak of all those other kids we’ve had, but I also speak so very highly of these kids. They worked hard all season long. Their goal was to get here and their goal was to play well and we played well.”

They sure did.

Sullivan finished 12th individually, while sophomore Jacob Beckman tied for 16th with a 152. Kriewaldt fired a 156 and tied for 26th overall, while Middleton also counted an opening round 75 from Frisch and a second-day 80 from sophomore Tim O’Malley.

“This year, our goal was to be top-two, so it’s amazing that we met that,” Kriewaldt said. “We wanted to win, but it’s hard to win when you have Marquette in front of you.

“It’s just a great moment. State is just so fun, especially in this final group. So, I just wanted to enjoy the moment.”

Middleton got off to a terrific start during the opening round, shooting a 303-team score and surging into second place. Marquette led the field with a 296, while Badger (306), Wauwatosa East/West (310) and both Menomonee Falls and Kaukauna (315 each) rounded out the top five.

“Coach said be aggressive to a conservative target and never give up on a shot,” Sullivan said. “And I went out there with the attitude that I’m going to have fun. If I’m having fun I know I’m going to play better.”

Any visions Middleton had of catching Marquette vanished early as the Hilltoppers refused to blink and only got stronger as the day progressed. Instead, the Cardinals focused on holding off the gaggle of teams chasing them for second.

“It wasn’t that we made a lot of mistakes (Tuesday),” Cabalka said. “We just didn’t give ourselves many opportunities to catch a team like Marquette. And you know they’re just not going to hurt themselves. But overall, we just had two good, solid days.”

Sullivan birdied two of his first four holes on his way to a second day 76. Kriewaldt shot an even-par, 36, on the back nine and matched Sullivan for Middleton’s low-score on day two.

Beckman carded a 79, and O’Malley — who played from the No. 5 spot in the lineup all year — came up big with an 80.

As thrilling as state proved to be in 2019, the 2020 campaign could be even better for these Cardinals. Middleton will return all five of its golfers this spring, while three of Marquette’s top five graduate. 

“Next year? I have a good feeling about next year,” Sullivan said. “I’m not going to say anything profound, but I think the target on us has definitely shifted from us being the underdogs to being the frontrunners, which is awesome. That’s exactly what we wanted.”

And what they achieved — thanks to a memorable performance at state.

 

5. Boys swimmers shine at state

Like two heavyweights, Middleton and Madison West took each other’s best shots. Back and forth they went until the Regents finally pulled away late at the WIAA Division 1 state meet held at the UW Natatorium on Feb. 16.

While West went on to win the decision, 314-257, the Cardinals certainly had their moments on their way to a second straight runner-up state finish.

One of those came from Middleton’s foursome of senior Archer Parkin, junior Nate Lamers, senior Andrew Martin and junior Forrest Peterson, who won the 200-yard freestyle relay in a state record time of one minute, 23.12 seconds.

“That was a pretty incredible race,” Martin said. “I was so excited, everyone was just swimming lights out. You could tell we wanted it so bad.

“Forrest coming home, bringing it, really blasted the last split. Nate Lamers, Archer Parkin had incredible swims. That was one of my favorite relays that I’ve ever been on. To have that state record it’s very, very exciting and it’s just a testament to how hard everyone on that relay’s been working this season.”

The fact the Cardinals beat out West, which also broke the state record, made the victory even sweeter.

“That was one of the ones we were going for,” Middleton coach Danny Lynam said. “We’ve kind of been running neck and neck with them all season, back and forth and we really wanted to get that one and the guys went out and got it.”

Lamers agreed.

“We barely missed the state record at sectionals,” he said. “We were really shooting for that state record. We were pretty sure we had the first place down. I saw my split, I saw Andrew’s split and I just knew that we had it. It was just a fun moment, not only winning, but also to get a state record.”

Middleton beat out Sauk Prairie/Wisconsin Heights’ 2009 record of 1:24.32. West finished in 1:23.68.

The relay performance helped Middleton finish second for the third time in school history. The others came in 2000 and 2018.

“We swam as fast as we’d hoped,” Middleton coach Danny Lynam said. “We had a great sectional meet. Sometimes it’s really nerve-wracking to have a really good sectional, you’re not quite sure if you can repeat it at state and the guys just blew it out of the water. They just kept dropping times, kept getting faster and it was a great meet for us.”

While the Cardinals were hoping for a first-place finish, especially after dropping a 384.0-383.5 thriller to West at the Middleton Sectional, there was no disappointment.

“We were hoping for first, but honestly, all of us swam so well,” Martin said. “I couldn’t have hoped for anything better for the boys. We know we gave our hearts for that race, every single one of those races, and it just so happened that West also did. I’m very proud of the boys, I’m not sad at all that we got second. We did everything that we possibly could. We worked so hard.”

After West and Middleton, Waukesha South/Catholic Memorial was a distant third with 161 points. Franklin (157.0) and Brookfield Central/East (131.50) rounded out the top five.

“They’re a great team,” Lamers said of West. “Hopefully we can come back next year and maybe go for that first place spot, but I think right now, I’m happy with what we got.”

Martin provided another highlight when he came from behind to capture the 500-yard freestyle in 4:31.12. Martin was running a close third behind Drew Harris of Stevens Point and Caleb Blischke of Waukesha South/Catholic Memorial when he passed both swimmers making the turn for the final 150 yards.

“I don’t know what it was,” Martin said. “My emotions and my adrenaline just overcame me. I knew it was my last ever race with the team and I just wanted to put as many points on the board for my boys as I could.”

Martin added a second-place finish in the 200-yard freestyle in 1:39.75 leading a contingent of three Middleton swimmers in the event. Also in the 200-yard freestyle, Peterson made the podium with a sixth-place finish in 1:42.43 and sophomore Joe McNerney was 15th in 1:46.77.

Junior Nathan Kim rallied to finish second in the 200-yard individual medley in 1:50.98. Kim was trailing Desmon Sachtjen of Sauk Prairie co-op until the freestyle portion of the race. 

“Some of us will be back next year and we can be even better hopefully,” Kim said. “But this year, we all put in so much work it just showed it all paid off at the end. It was great.”

 

Thrilling victories. Magnificent individual performances. Memories to last a lifetime.

These are the norm inside the remarkably successful sports programs at Middleton High School.

And 2019 was certainly no different.

MHS provided area sports fans with a bevy of highlights this past year. Here’s one person’s view of the top-10.

We will run stories 6-10 this week, and stories 1-5 next week

 

6. Girls cross country team shines

Maddie Ruszkiewicz found herself in the last place she expected at the WIAA Division 1 state cross country meet.

On the ground.

Just moments before reaching the finish line, Ruszkiewicz — a Middleton High School sophomore — collapsed. As Ruszkiewicz briefly laid on the cold and wet soil at Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids, she had one overriding thought.

“I thought about my teammates and how they probably already were there,” Ruszkiewicz said. “And then one of them passed me, and I was like, ‘We’re probably not going to place if I don’t crawl across the finish line.’ ”

So that’s exactly what she did.

In a remarkable display of grit, determination and perseverance, Ruszkiewicz gathered the strength to crawl across the finish line and became the fifth Middleton runner to complete the 5,000-meter course. In doing so, Ruszkiewicz ensured that the Cardinals notched a fourth place finish, their best showing at state since 2013.

Muskego won the race with 72 points, while Onalaska was second at 111. Sun Prairie was third with 134, while Middleton (147) and Hartland Arrowhead (218) rounded out the top five.

Cardinals’ sophomore sensation Lauren Pansegrau was second individually, finishing in 18 minutes, 14.2 seconds. Freshman Zaira Malloy-Salgado was 18th (19:15.9), junior Kiara Malloy-Salgado was 27th (19:36.8) and junior Bella Chirafisi was 43rd (19:59.1).

Ruszkiewicz, who finished 57th overall, felt her legs begin to give out on one of the final hills. One year earlier, Ruszkiewicz broke bones in both of her legs at the Big Eight Conference, then was in casts and a wheelchair.

Now, healed from that brutal injury, Ruszkiewicz had a chance to help her team secure fourth place. So she found her last bit of strength and crawled home, something her coach and teammates were buzzing about afterwards.

“She exerted herself so much that her body just couldn’t handle it after a while,” Middleton coach Alexa Richardson said. “She’s what helped our team get fourth. The fact she was able to crawl across that line and get us those points — I can’t believe that.”

Several other Cardinals enjoyed unbelievable days, as well.

Pansegrau, who finished 31st at state as a freshman, continued her remarkable rise in the sport.

Onalaska junior Kora Malecek won the race in 17:44.6. Pansegrau was second, more than six seconds ahead of Stevens Point’s Roisin Willis (18:20.9).

“I just wanted to start out fast and be near the front,” Pansegrau said. “I wanted to not fall too far back, but be running next to someone, too.”

The Malloy-Salgado sisters moved to Middleton this year when their mother took a job with the microbiology department at the University of Wisconsin. The two proved to be huge additions to the Cardinals’ program.

Zaira got acquainted with several teammates on summer runs. She could tell right away she liked the “chill” coaches and that she was alongside experienced runners.

At state, Zaira’s strategy was run in a pack for the first mile, spread into a line for the second mile, and then break off in the third. She followed her coaches’ instructions to start passing people down the backstretch, then started gaining momentum and sprinted to the tape. 

“I try to make sure I have a tiny bit left so I can give it my all,” Zaira Malloy-Salgado said. “We have all trained so much. It’s amazing to see how far everyone has come. To see it all payoff is awesome.”

Kiara Malloy-Salgado competed at the state meet in Iowa when she attended Iowa City West High School the past two years. She had virtually no knowledge or preconceived notions of the course in Wisconsin Rapids, but that was nothing new.

“Having no experience with any of the courses is something that definitely shook me a little bit at first,” Kiara said. “But then I got into the rhythm of, OK, new course — what do I need to know about? It made for a crazy experience.” “Upperclassmen are typically expected to lead, so I came into a bit of an awkward situation, where I felt like I needed to help inspire the other girls and I didn’t know how. Honestly, they did the work — they helped me become the runner I am right now. From last year to this year, I feel very different. I feel like I’ve grown as a person because of the change.”

Chirafisi, a standout swimmer the past two years, switched to cross country this season and was another huge addition. Chirafisi was voted a captain, and her leadership and speed were instrumental in Middleton’s success this year.

“She’s just been a great leader for this team,” Richardson said of Chirafisi.

Middleton’s two non-scoring runners also had strong races. Senior Megan Schwartz was 76th overall in 20.31.2, while freshman Elizabeth Schwartz was 82nd (20:32.0).

Overall, Middleton’s chemistry was a big reason why it captured fourth place at state.

“Our team this year has meshed better, and been more supportive of each other, than any team I’ve ever had,” Richardson said. “I think that’s one of the biggest reasons we’re doing well, because not only do they push each other, they have fun together. They really enjoy running together and watching each other race.”

No one enjoyed watching Ruszkiewicz run out of gas, though, and tumble near the finish line. But her remarkable resolve and fortitude provided a lasting image for this magical Middleton season.

“I was kind of sad, because I’ve never not finished a race before,” Ruszkiewicz said. “That’s been one of my goals since freshman year, to not drop out of a race. It was hard because I didn’t know if I was going to make it across. But I made it across, and I was happy.

“I love our team. I think we raced as well as we could have. We’re really happy, knowing we gave it everything we had.”

Ruszkiewicz was certainly proof of that.

 

7. Boys tennis team excels

Ian Connell walked about 100 feet, or so, through the bowels of Nielsen Tennis Stadium back on June 7.

When Connell got to the end of the hallway, his entire Middleton tennis team was waiting to shower the Cardinals’ freshman with love.

Hugs. High fives. Yelling. Screaming.

The group produced all of the above.

“That was just amazing,” Connell said. “Best thing I ever felt.”

And certainly deserved.

Connell took part in arguably the most grueling, exhausting, intense match seen at the WIAA Division 1 boys state team tennis tournament in several years. And when it ended after nearly three hours, Connell’s 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 (8) win over Arrowhead junior Cole Contardi lifted the Cardinals past the Warhwaks, 4-3, in a state quarterfinal match.

Middleton dropped an exciting 4-3 decision to eventual state champion Milwaukee Marquette in the state semifinals the following day. But the Cardinals’ win over Arrowhead — and in particular, Connell’s victory in front of roughly 150 spectators — will be talked about for years to come.

“Awesome. Just awesome,” Middleton coach Tony Mirasola said. “I’ve played a lot of tennis, I’ve coached a lot of tennis. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of anything like that before.”

Added Connell: “That was the most tired I’ve ever been. I just dug deep and tried my best.”

Middleton trailed Arrowhead, 3-1, after matches in the lower flights were completed. That meant the Cardinals had to win the final three matches of the night to advance to the state semifinals.

Middleton seniors Sam Dettman and Brandon Bodak took care of their business, defeating Arrowhead’s Sam Kredell and Jared Pietilla, 6-1, 6-4, at No. 1 doubles. 

At No. 2 doubles, Cardinals senior Alton Yan and sophomore Gene Kim posted an impressive 7-6 (2), 1-6, 6-3 win over Warhawks’ sophomore Quin Dubofsky and freshman Alex Deubel.

“I knew going in that Arrowhead was a super deep team,” Mirasola said. “And I knew the way the format works, you play those lower flights first, so there was the potential to go down early. But we did a great job fighting back, and that’s a credit to those guys. I think they played better because of it.”

Especially Connell.

Contardi seemingly had Connell on the ropes early in the third set, though. Contardi — who won the final three games of the second set — also won the first two games of the third set and jumped to a 2-0 lead.

“I was really, really tired,” Connell said. “I just had to take it one step at a time, one point at a time.”

He did. Connell quickly evened the set, 2-2, before another Contardi break helped him surge to a 4-2 edge.

After both players held serve giving Contardi a 5-3 lead, Connell fell behind 0-30 on his own serve and was two points from being eliminated.

“It felt like he was hanging on for dear life,” Mirasola said. “But he did. Every single time. He was fighting the fight and was able to flip the switch at the perfect time.”

This was one of those times.

Connell rattled off seven straight points — the first four allowing him to hold serve and pull within 5-4, and the next three leading to a service break that evened the match, 5-5.

Eventually the final set went to a tiebreaker, and Connell jumped to a 6-3 lead, giving him three match points. But Contardi fought off all three points and won five of six points overall to take an 8-7 lead and earn a match point of his own.

Connell responded, though, by winning the next two points on his own serve to take a 9-8 lead. Then, on Connell’s fourth match point of the night, Contardi double faulted. And 4 hours, 38 minutes after the Cardinals and Warhawks began their match, Middleton rejoiced.

“It was relieving, but I also felt bad for him,” Connell said. “You never want it to end on a double fault. But I would say that was one of my best matches. I played pretty well.”

Mirasola agreed.

“To have the match go that way and have it come down to a freshman in the third set. Unbelievable,” he said. “He was never phased the whole match. He’s a freshman, but he’s the smartest player on our team and he is unbelievably calm. He loves this group environment, he feeds off of it and that was his best match of the year.”

 

8, Girls swimmers sixth at state

Throughout the 2019 season, Middleton’s girls swimming and diving team dealt with more than its share of adversity. 

But the Cardinals never gave up. 

They kept fighting and capped their season with another terrific performance at the WIAA Division 1 state swimming and diving championship at the UW Natatorium on Nov. 16.

Leaning on its seniors, Middleton earned a sixth-place finish with 143 points. Brookfield East finished with 243 points and ended the Cardinals’ three-year championship reign. Hartland Arrowhead placed second with 220 points followed by Sun Prairie (212.50), Muskego (192) and Waukesha South/Mukwonago (146).

“It was a pretty crazy year just considering I really don’t think we had a full week of having our full team there until this past week,” senior Gabriela Pierobon Mays said. “Girls were fighting illnesses and all these different things, but considering how we swam today, we clearly didn’t let up a single time and the girls kept fighting all the way to the end.”

“We’ve really had our ups and downs this season, but I think every single challenge has made us stronger and we’ve come back even stronger every single time,” added senior Berkley Smith.

The Cardinals did it with a young lineup that included three seniors, a pair of juniors, four sophomores and two freshmen.

“These girls it’s a really young squad and most of them have never been in this setting before and I’m just so proud of the way they held it together,” Middleton coach Lauren Cabalka said. “They acted like veteran swimmers. None of them lost their cool, none of them lost their head and that was our senior leaders. They just stepped up big time and set the gold standard for leadership and just took us through this.”

One of those seniors was Gabriela Pierobon Mays who stepped up to capture third place in the 100-yard backstroke in 54.74 seconds while swimming the second heat in the event.

“Our goal going into that is like, ‘Gabby, post a time that scares them,’” Cabalka said. “That’s your job, be in your lane, be in your zone, post a time that scares them and she sure did that.”

Pierobon Mays also competed for the first time in the 50-yard freestyle at state and had a fourth-place finish in 23.55 beating her seed time of 23.80. 

“She’s the type of swimmer that’s like, ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to do,’” Cabalka said. “Sometimes I have to talk to her and say, ‘No, what do you want to do, it’s your senior year.’ And she’s just like, ‘Honestly I’ll do whatever you need.’ She’s just that kind of swimmer. It was so fun to watch her today with that smile on her face.”

Smith produced a pair of 10th-place finishes in the 50-yard freestyle in 24.28 and 100-yard freestyle in 53.04, but it was her performance in the 200-yard freestyle relay that turned heads. Smith anchored the relay and helped the squad which included sophomores Ella Needham and Abby Utter and junior Kaitlyn Peters to a fourth-place finish in 1:36.59. 

The Cardinals got a pair of fifth-place finishes from their 200-yard medley relay of Smith, senior Alex Anagnostopoulos, Pierobon Mays and junior Madelyn Lawn in 1:46.94 and 400-yard freestyle relay of Pierobon Mays, Peters, Utter and Needham in 3:30.51. 

Cabalka pointed out that this Cardinals squad was able to accomplish one thing none of the state championship teams did – they qualified all of their swimmers that competed at sectionals.

“Every person that swam at sectionals qualified through and that’s really cool,” Cabalka said.

Cabalka also expressed how proud she was of her team.

“I told them this morning, regardless of what happens tonight, you guys got through this season of everything that can be thrown at you with class and dignity and poise and I’m just super proud of the way they’ve handled themselves,” Cabalka said. “It’s not easy to be a team that’s been very good for a long time and not only to deal with that, but then all of the things that the season threw at us and they — without missing a beat — were phenomenal.”

 

9. Track teams impress at state

It didn’t matter that the Middleton Cardinals’ 3,200 relay was seeded fourth entering the WIAA Division 1 state track and field meet at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium back on June 1.

Their goal was to come home with a spot on the top of the podium, a gold medal and a memory to last a lifetime.

Mission accomplished.

Middleton’s 3,200 team of junior Zach Leffel, senior Michael Madoch, junior Braedon Gilles and senior Caleb Easton got the meet off to a tremendous start when they finished first in 7 minutes, 48.65 seconds. Kenosha Bradford/Reuther was second in 7:51.18. 

“Our goal was to win and just to win is cool,” Madoch said.

Middleton coach Joe Line said regardless of their seeding or previous times, the quartet was thinking about running in the 7:40 range. 

“They knew they were capable of doing it,” Line said. “They just went out to race and win it. It was awesome.” 

Easton said with all four runners returning from last year’s distance relay, winning a state championship was their primary focus all season.

“We were pretty confident we could do this,” said Easton, who will be running at Northern Arizona next year. “We have a very deep team. We have a lot of younger guys coming up doing great things. A lot of guys who were really close to qualifying for state in their events.

“So I think we were pretty confident about these four. We’ve been running together forever. We’re all best friends. We’d do anything for each other. That gives us a good advantage over the other teams.”

Leffel got the Cardinals off to a solid start, and Madoch and Gilles did their part to hand the baton off to Easton with a lead heading into the final two laps.

Easton then brought it home, raising his arms in celebration as he crossed the finish line.

“These guys got me in a real good position,” Easton said. “It was a little difficult running in the front. Taking the baton with the lead is a little bit scary because people are coming up on you.

“I was pretty confident that would be the case, so I was prepared for that very well. I ran my own race, and I was happy these guys could set it up for me.”

Middleton tied for 11th in the meet with 18 points, following Easton’s third-place finish in the 1,600 and Madoch’s seventh-place finish in the 800.

Kimberly won the meet with 46 points. Waukesha North (39), Mequon Homestead (37), Fond du Lac (24.5) and Oconomowoc (24) rounded out the top five.

On the girls’ side, Middleton freshman distance runner Lauren Pansegrau put the finishing touches on an impressive year with a second place finish in the 3,200-meter run.

Pansegrau ran a strategically savvy race finishing in a personal-best time of 10 minutes, 47.81 seconds. She trailed only Onalaska sophomore Kora Malecek, a triplet whose sisters also competed in the meet, who was first in 10:36.25.

“I’m really happy,” Pansegrau said. “It was a fun race. I tried not to stay too far behind (the leader) and run with the pack around me.”

 

10. Gymnasts return to state

In some ways, the results were almost secondary.

Middleton’s girls gymnastics team, a surprise participant at the WIAA Division 1 state meet held at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln High School, was truthfully fine with whatever happened.

“We were just happy to be at state,” Middleton coach Kari Steck.

And that made the outcome easy to digest.

Middleton finished 10th among 10 teams at the state team meet last Friday. Franklin captured the team title with a score of 148.2833, while Middleton was 10th at 130.7667.

Then during the individual meet Saturday, Middleton senior Jordan Baggot was 22nd in the all-around competition, while sophomore Taylor Engelkes was 23rd.

“I don’t think the girls were nervous,” Steck said. “It was a great experience for a young team.”

Middleton certainly wasn’t at its best at the team meet. Then again, no one was complaining.

One week earlier, the Cardinals were enormous longshots to emerge from sectionals, but somehow surprised the field.

Middleton’s best event at state was the balance beam, where the Cardinals scored a 33.350. Baggot led the way with an 8.933, freshman Ella Mock scored an 8.167, sophomore Maddie Phaneuf scored an 8.133 and sophomore Emily Bernd had an 8.117.

The Cardinals had a 32.633 on the floor. Baggot led the way with an 8.950, Engelkes had an 8.283, Mock scored a 7.717 and junior Nicole Parkinson had a 7.683.

Baggot led the way on the vault with an 8.867, Engelkes had an 8.217, Bernd scored a 7.933 and junior Mattie Joers had a 7.90. Engelkes led Middleton on the uneven bars with an 8.233, Baggot scored an 8.183, Mock had a 7.867 and freshman Sami Swiersz scored a 7.583.

“We were very proud of the girls,” Steck said. “State judging is tough, and the pressure is tough. We really try to emphasize to the girls that state is about the experience, and that we’re there to have fun, and that’s exactly what they did.”

One day later, Baggot and Engelkes took part at the individual state meet.

Baggot was 17th on the floor exercise (8.950), 21st on the vault (8.817), scored an 8.550 on the balance beam and an 8.433 on the uneven bars.

Engelkes was 23rd on the beam (8.30), 27th on the uneven bars (8.150), 29th on the floor (8.50) and scored an 8.533 on the vault.

“Jordan and Taylor had so much fun on Saturday,” Steck said. “We have a great sectional group of coaches and gymnasts, so the atmosphere was great and supportive, even though they weren’t with their usual teammates.

“Both girls hit all of their routines, and that’s really all we can ask for. For Jordan, she definitely went out on a positive note. I don’t think she’s had a better floor routine than she had at state.”

Overall, Steck and the Cardinals were thrilled with their year.

“We were nervous at first having such a large team, but the girls really meshed well together and formed a supportive team,” Steck said. “I think Jordan played a huge role in that as a strong leader.

“That’s really all we can ask for as a team. It was a young team this year, but the girls gained valuable experience and skills that have created a strong foundation for years to come.”

 

 

 

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